Coronavirus-Related Crime: It's Getting Weird Out There

Police in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have all reported drops in crime since stay-at-home orders have been put in place, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely quiet for law enforcement these days. In fact, in some jurisdictions, the coronavirus is the reason for some pretty weird and unsettling crimes that police are having to deal with.

Some drivers in Greeley, Colorado were recently pulled over by a guy in a gas mask who directed them to what looked like a police checkpoint, where they were then questioned about why they were out of their home.

The drivers reported being “questioned for ‘violating the COVID-19 law,’ ” police wrote. But no such roadblocks have been conducted by local law enforcement.

A Greeley woman told police she was stopped at 4:50 a.m. by a man in a gas mask who directed her into a roadblock funnel formed by traffic cones and silver vehicles with flashing police lights, The Denver Post reported.

“The individual asked to see her license, insurance and registration, and demanded explanation as to why she was violating COVID-19 law,” said Cmdr. Rafael Gutierrez of the Greeley Police Department, according to the publication.

“He told the woman she could get charged with a violation for being out,” Gutierrez said, The Denver Post reported. “And apparently he showed her something she thought looked like a ticket but it was never given to her.”

The man let her go after about 10 minutes, according to the publication. Police checked with other agencies, but none are pulling people over for violating the stay-home order.

KDVR-TV in Denver reported similar incidents in Erie and Aurora, Colorado as well.

On March 25, around midnight a woman was pulled over by a dark colored Ford Crown Victoria equipped with red and blue emergency lights near East 6th Avenue and Havana Street.

“She was approached by what she described was a well-groomed young man, 6-foot-tall, 150 pounds and he was wearing a pressed uniform. She did take note though he did not have a badge or patches or name tag,” McCoy said.

The man questioned why she was out during the Stay-at-Home order.

“He did ask her for her driver’s license and she gave it to him. He gave it back and told her she was free to leave,” McCoy said. “That’s the most concerning thing. It has her name, potentially her current address, her date of birth other things on there.It is scary that someone else has them and we don’t know what they’re up to in this.”

A lot of unanswered questions here, including whether this is one individual or a number of different people who are pulling the same ruse? What’s the end game? Is it a someone who simply enjoys pretending to be the coronavirus police, or is there a more nefarious purpose? It’s unclear at this point, but if for some reason get pulled over and you have suspicions that you’re dealing with a police impersonator, officers advise that you acknowledge the individual, turn on your hazards, and proceed to a well-lit area or police station.

Meanwhile in rural Maine, it wasn’t a case of officer impersonation but local intimidation when two construction workers from New Jersey found themselves blocked inside their rental home by locals who were concerned that the men had fled the Garden State and may have been infected with the COVID-19 virus.

The incident involves allegations that an armed group of residents cut down a tree to block access to a road to keep three people from leaving their home on Cripple Creek Road. The homeowner summoned help with a marine radio, and used a drone to monitor the group until law enforcement arrived.

In a statement released Saturday night, the sheriff’s office said those concerned about someone not following public heath recommendations during the coronavirus outbreak should notify authorities and not take matters into their own hands.

“We are concerned that some believe that anyone from out of the state is potentially infected and needs to be quarantined,” the statement said in part. “Whether someone is a Maine resident or not, they have the right to free movement and anyone who infringes upon that free movement is potentially violating the law.”

According to the local state representative, the men from New Jersey had actually been staying in the home since September.

“There are two guys from [New Jersey], on Vinalhaven who have been renting a house since September while working on a construction job,” she wrote Saturday. “They went to the mainland and were targeted because of their license plate when they arrived back on Vinalhaven.

“There were some words between them and some locals and the conversation apparently didn’t go very well,” McDonald, who represents Vinalhaven, continued. “I did hear the guys from [New Jersey] were fairly arrogant in their response. A group of local vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands and barricaded these guys into their rental property.”

The word “vigilante” gets overused, particularly by gun control advocates, but that’s a pretty good description of what took place here. A group of citizens decided to take the law into their own hands and forcibly quarantine people inside of their homes. I know that many of us in rural areas are a little suspicious of outsiders right now. When I was driving home from the Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. studio today, I was stuck behind a car with North Carolina plates, and even I was wondering “why are you here in central Virginia right now?”

The difference is I didn’t try to pull them over or escort them at gunpoint back to the North Carolina line. As concerned as we all may be about the spread of coronavirus and the impact it could have on our health and public safety agencies, civilization has not collapsed and we are not living in a post-apocalyptic society. Not yet anyway (I kid, I kid). Seriously though, if you ever decide you’re going to down a tree to prevent people from leaving their home, don’t. It won’t end well for you, and it’s downright unneighborly to boot.

We’re also starting to see a growing and disgusting trend of people who are being arrested spitting on cops and claiming they have the coronavirus. In New Jersey, there’ve been a number of these incidents reported over the past couple of weeks. Here’s just a partial list.

  • Jennifer Burgess allegedly spit on officers in Dunellen, claiming to have tested positive for COVID-19. She was charged with throwing bodily fluid at a law enforcement officer and second-degree terroristic threats.
  • Zachary Hagin, 33, was charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, and endangering for allegedly spitting on a police officer in Gloucester Township and claiming to have the coronavirus.
  • Raymond Ricciardi, 51, was arrested in New Providence on domestic violence charges. He allegedly stated that he was infected with the coronavirus and started to cough at police and medical personnel. He was charged with obstruction and harassment.

A quick search online revealed similar stories have been reported in ColoradoWisconsinand Pennsylvania, and if I wanted to spend the time I probably could have found examples from most states in the union. At a time when many departments around the country are holding off on making arrests for low-level crimes and releasing some non-violent offenders early, it seems particularly stupid to increase the chances that you’re going to be sitting in a jail cell during a pandemic by spitting on an cop’s face. Then again, we may not be working with MENSA material in a lot of these cases.

It’s definitely getting a little weird out there, and sadly, I have a feeling we’re just getting started. People are stressed, and scared, and maybe even a little bored. That’s not a recipe I plan on keeping an eye on these types of stories over the next few weeks, so if you see something where you live feel free to pass it along at [email protected].